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Talks, dialogue, negotiations and GNU - Post June 2008 "elections" - Index of articles
The bittersweet Zimbabwean deal
February 08, 2009
To a mixed bag of ululations
and disappointments, Zimbabwe-s main opposition leader, Morgan
Tsvangirai, agreed to enter into a government of national unity
(GNU) with fellow opposition leader Arthur Mutambara and the controversial
incumbent, Robert Mugabe. Whatever the skepticism and whatever the
argument, this deal is a necessary evil.
This is not
to say that those opposed to the deal are misinformed. In fact,
there is a very legitimate case to be made against this deal. The
power sharing deal was initially
signed on September 15, 2008, between Mugabe, Tsvangirai, and
Mutambara after the disputed presidential election in March of that
year. However, Tsvangirai-s party has refused to implement
the agreement since September, demanding the cessation of human-rights
abuses and citing the unilateral and inequitable distribution of
key cabinet positions by Mugabe as a sign of insincerity. According
to Tsvangirai, his party would not have been treated as an equal
partner under the original stipulations of the agreement. The terms
of the deal are somewhat improved with the opposition obtaining
control over the Finance portfolio and co-managing the critical
Home Affairs Ministry, among others.
In spite of these apparent
improvements to the deal, opponents argue that it provides Mugabe
with a political lifeline and could potentially sink Tsvangirai
and the opposition into political oblivion. Here, history is not
on Mugabe-s side. For example, following catastrophic political
disturbances in 1987, Mugabe-s party, ZANU, signed a Unity
Accord with the then opposition leader Joshua Nkomo-s party,
ZAPU. Although this accord led to the end of political violence,
many perpetrators went largely unpunished while Nkomo and his party
took largely ceremonial roles in the new government setup. For these
reasons, the opposition to the current deal is concerned Tsvangirai
may have been suckered into a deal with Mugabe not really intending
to give him real power. If this were the case, how then would Tsvangirai
back away and still remain credible? There are legitimate concerns
that perhaps it would have been more advantageous for Tsvangirai
to continue insisting on the parity that this agreement does not
In our criticisms,
however, it is important to take note that Tsvangirai-s decision
is consistent with the very principle of democracy for which we
clamor. After Tsvangirai had earlier yielded to the current
deal that was brokered by the Southern African Development Community,
it was up to the 60-member MDC national executive council to vote
either in favor of or against participation. After an intense and
charged internal debate that threatened to tear the party apart,
the national executive council voted for participation. This decision
represents an immense ideological shift by the MDC, a party that
has always insisted on free and fair elections as the highway to
political office. Like it or not, the party-s decision has
to be respected. Simply, that is democracy.
At times, idealism has
to take the backseat and allow pragmatism to lead the way. This
seems to have informed Tsvangirai-s decision. The MDC and
various pro-democracy forces have attempted democratic change for
over a decade. Yet these efforts have been brutally thwarted by
the Zimbabwean government through the introduction of draconian
laws, alleged human-rights abuses, and the skewing of democratic
space against the opposition, among other measures. Surely, the
world should one day demand accountability for these actions. Pragmatically,
that time is not now. Mugabe has no intention of exiting the political
picture and forcing him out is simply impractical.
Naturally, this left
the opposition with very few alternatives. The only plausible option
was for the MDC to simply take the fight for democratic change to
a new scene, to a new platform: an imperfect unity government. By
agreeing to this compromise deal, Tsvangirai understood this. Mugabe
is as much a part of the solution as he is the problem.
Indeed, no ruler should
be allowed to mismanage a country and expect the world to fold its
arms. While the initiatives to address the Zimbabwe situation are
very welcome, one cannot overlook the fact that this deal rewards
political violence and repression at the expense of electoral popularity
and acceptance. By endorsing power-sharing agreements (first in
Kenya and now in Zimbabwe), African leaders have, in principle,
set a dangerous precedent: dispute election results, hang onto power,
then negotiate into a compromise arrangement.
This arrangement may
be a painful pill to swallow, but history has shown again and again
that, in convoluted situations, compromise is sometimes bittersweet.
Even Nelson Mandela had to make painful concessions. If the opposition
effectively capitalizes its parliamentary majority and its dominance
in various urban and rural councils while remaining vigilant and
principled in its delivery of duty, it will certainly survive this
arrangement and usher a new democratic disposition for Zimbabwe.
After all, this is a transitional government whose mandate is to
ensure socioeconomic stability and facilitate the country-s
return to democracy through free and fair elections—a means
to an end.
This government will
be expected to expedite the crafting and adoption of a people-driven
constitution that restores both Zimbabweans- freedoms and
civil liberties while ensuring the restoration of the rule of law,
among other things. Will this inclusive government succeed, or will
it falter and betray the long-suffering Zimbabweans? Any guess is
a good one— the jury is still out. In the meantime, this deal
should be given a chance. Zimbabweans have begun to dream again.
Mudzingwa -09 is an economics and African studies concentrator
in Adams House. He is co-founder of the Harvard College Africa Business
and Investment Club.
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